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Life as a double amputee

Despite losing her left arm and much of her left leg in a horrific crash on Medford's North Foothill Road two months ago, Klamath Falls resident Chelsea Gamble said she is working hard to focus on a positive outlook on life.

On Aug. 20, Gamble’s two limbs were torn from her body when the motorcycle she rode on with her fiancé was struck by a drunken driver.

Gamble said the crash still feels like a nightmare that people hear about but that “happens to somebody else.”

But it’s her new reality.

To aid in her recovery, she’s launched a blog she posts on Facebook, hopes to raise money to cover functional — versus “cosmetic only” prosthetics — and says she’ll educate anyone willing to listen to never get behind the wheel of a vehicle when they’ve had a drop of alcohol.

Gamble, 27, and her fiancé, 28-year-old Zachary Toll, were returning from a trip to Sutherlin when the crash occurred. They stopped at the Pilot in Central Point on their way home.

“We decided to take a different way home because Highway 140 has a lot of traffic and it’s just really straight, so we thought Foothill would be a nice, different kind of drive. Near the Pilot was the last time I stood on my own two legs and had my arm.”

Court records would later reveal the blood alcohol content of the driver, Medford resident Jose Guadalupe Medina-Galan, was 0.12 percent one-and-a-half hours after the crash, during which he lost control of his 1996 Chevy pickup truck and crossed the center line.

Medina-Galen was sentenced to eight years in prison. Gamble said she’s accepted what happened but refuses to let it change her as a person.

“It’s really hard to know that it happened. And the accident was pretty severe. I wasn’t like I went to hospital and they were like, ‘OK, your limbs are pretty messed up and we’re going to have to amputate. It happened right there, when he hit us, on the road,” Gamble said.

“You always think, ‘This is supposed to happen to somebody we don’t know.’ But now we’re living it.”

In addition to Gamble’s life-changing injuries, Toll suffered a badly broken femur, broken ribs and internal bleeding.

Gamble spent 12 days at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland and seven days in in-patient rehabilitation, while Toll spent six days at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford then, still recovering from his injuries, camped out at the hospital with Gamble while helping to care for the couple’s 5-year-old daughter, Bentleigh.

Gamble said her blog, “Single-Handedly Taking Over the World: Life as a Double Amputee,” is a way to provide updates on her recovery and is therapeutic. With a breathing tube down her throat, Gamble was able to communicate in a series of notebooks provided at the hospital by family members. A way to reflect back, the pages now offer a glimpse at days in the hospital that she remembers were “hazy” at the time.

Both Gamble and Toll were disappointed at the sentencing last week, during which the judge had to prompt Medina-Galan to apologize. He refused to face the couple while doing so.

Said Gamble, “I don’t know how I would live with myself. … I would have been up there just bawling and saying how very sorry that I was.”

Toll said Gamble’s signature positive outlook is helping those around her in more ways than help can be provided for her.

“The ignorance of one person to change not just her and my life, but they changed everyone around us. This changed not only our lives but our families’ lives. The unfair part is he gets to go and ... just hang out for a few years,” Toll said.

“Chelsea is better at putting things into words than I am but it’s just pretty sickening the way it happened and the fact that he didn’t seem to care.”

Uninsured at the time of the accident, Gamble and Toll are hoping to save money to find prosthetics  “that are actually functional,” Gamble said.

“It would be unreal if we could find some way in this world to get her an arm," Toll said. "At this point I know that an arm is pretty well out of reach. I couldn’t pay for it if I worked all the overtime in the world and never stopped. But she deserves the world on a platter so, if there’s a way, I have to find it.”

For Gamble, if her blog prevents one crash involving a drunken driver, that would mean more than eventual plans to return to work and get back on a motorcycle.

“I’ve had time to think about things and, while you can’t really move forward from something like this, you have to go day by day and be happy to still be here and find ways to make your life a good one. It happened and that’s pretty much all there is to it, and I’m still here.

“My daughter gets sad sometimes, but I told her I still get to hold her hand and hug her and could still spank her butt. Occasionally, she’ll say, 'I want you to have an arm' or 'I want you to have a leg.' She loves super heroes, so I told her I was going to get a new leg and maybe an arm, and then I’m just going to be a super hero instead of a regular mom.”

To help: www.gofundme.com/chelsea-gamble-zack-toll

— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Chelsea Gamble, 27, poses with her fiance, Zachary Toll, 28, and their 5-year-old daughter, Bentleigh. [Submitted photo]